French Open 2019: How Angelique Kerber was ousted by 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova; Muguruza survives Round 1 exit scare

The first day of Grand Slams does bring some big upsets early on. In one of the earliest matches of the tournament this year, former World No 1 Angelique Kerber crashed out to 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova of Russia.

Potapova and Kerber strangely have coincided paths. Both were World No 1 in 2016 - Kerber in the women’s singles, Potapova in the juniors. Both won Grand Slams that year - Potapova at Wimbledon, Kerber in Australia, and then at the US Open.

 French Open 2019: How Angelique Kerber was ousted by 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova; Muguruza survives Round 1 exit scare

Russia's Anastasia Potapova returns the ball to Germany's Angelique Kerber during their women's singles first round match. AFP

The former World No 1, also a two-time champion on the clay in Stuttgart, her home tournament, is no slouch on the Terre battue. But 2019 has been difficult for the German, who withdrew last month from the Madrid Open with a right ankle injury, and sat out the tournament in Rome to continue her physical rehab. Currently at World No 5, Kerber had a chance to return to No  1 contingent on a strong finish at Roland Garros. Unfortunately, with her match against 18-year-old Potapova, that was not to be the case.

Kerber and Potapova’s match was full of breaks, each player breaking the other in quick succession. While the German looked far from perfect, her injuries did not appear to be troubling her during the match. Regardless, with Potapova up 5-4 on serve, Kerber was poised at 40-0 and all but looking to equalise the match, staying in with at least a fighting chance against her Russian rival, who looked fluid on court, and truly looked in touch with every shot she played from the beginning.

Few, if any, faults could be found in Potapova’s shot-making all throughout today’s match; her shots were intense, full of intention, and forceful. To Kerber’s credit, despite being a break down early on in the first set, held back to combat it - as she did it again a second time as well. However, by the third attempt from Potapova to break, Kerber, still struggling with injury, went on to lose the first set. Up until the end of that set, the German, chasing a career Grand Slam, still looked to be up to a fight for victory.

Where the first set had looked like a fight as each player broke the other, the second set was entirely Potapova’s, from the get go. Holding to begin the set, the Russian broke, and then broke again, to go up 3-0 against the World No 5. Despite her injuries, Kerber still managed to claw back to 2-4 in the second. What did not help Kerber’s cause was the fact that Potapova, standing firm at the baseline, sent shots all over court Philippe-Chatrier, and the German, still recovering from her right ankle injury, was not able to chase them all down.

Rather than a significantly dramatic moment in the match that turned things around, there were ebbs and flows from the higher-ranked player, who has never progressed beyond the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. We did see some solid fight from the German within the set, but that was a fight she was unable to take to the end; however, given her favourite grass season is coming up, we may be able to see some solid performances from Kerber in a short time.

18-year-old Potapova now takes on 19-year-old Czech player Marketa Vondrusova, who is currently ranked 38 on the women’s circuit.

2016 champion Muguruza staves off Round 1 exit

American Taylor Townsend, who has mainly featured on the ITF circuit in recent times, was in great form today on the newly-constructed Court Simonne Mathieu, taking on 2016 Roland Garros champion Garbine Muguruza. Townsend looked in excellent touch, and even as Muguruza sent shots all over the court, the American returned with seeming ease, sending Muguruza moving all over court. 25-year-old Townsend’s shot placement was excellent in that set, and she eventually closed out the opener 7-5 with a combination of some excellent footwork and placement.

But Townsend winning the first set was perhaps the turning point of the game, at least for Muguruza. The Spaniard appeared to quickly regroup, while Townsend lost steam, and early on in the second set also looked to be giving up on some otherwise easily playable shots. Where Townsend lost motivation, Muguruza gained momentum and quickly took back control.

Townsend had been chasing down almost every shot in the first set, and even as the second set began, she did combat Muguruza’s flighty tennis, particularly in the first game, when she slid across court to return. The Spaniard, however, quickly went up a double break as she appeared to dial up her serves, kept coming up to the net, and held her unforced error count down.

Faltering on first serves in the second set, Muguruza brought her first serve percentage up to 88% in the second set, with Townsend missing what appeared to be a couple of easy returns early on. She eventually took the second set 6-2, and going into the decider, held before a late surge from the American saw Muguruza teetering on the edge of a break point. To Townsend’s credit, despite a few up-and-down lapses in the second, significantly less experience on the Grand Slam stage, and facing a two-time Grand Slam winner at the other end of the net, she mounted quite the valiant fight back regardless. The match was a bit closer than the scoreline suggests, with Townsend’s biggest lapse her first serve win percentage - 61% to Muguruza’s 73, and her failure to convert break points.

To that end, Townsend even teetered on the edge of breaking Muguruza in the third set after holding her first service game; almost up 2-0 on the Spaniard, Townsend could still have taken back control of that match. But where Muguruza succeeded was in coming up to the net and sending some blistering forehands and perfectly placed down-the-line backhands that were unreturnable.

For some players, the turning point is taking a set off their rival. For Muguruza today, her survival ended up being in losing the first set instead. Muguruza now faces Sweden’s Johanna Larsson in Round 2.

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Updated Date: May 27, 2019 10:08:13 IST